Coach Jerry Kill and Minnesota lost their Big Ten opener to Iowa last week. (Associated Press)
Ann Arbor — Jerry Kill knows what would boost his program: A signature win.
For Minnesota, that chance comes today against Michigan.
“At the beginning of the year, I said in this particular year, you’ve got to have one of those significant wins, one of those ones maybe you’re not supposed to win, pull off an upset,” said Kill, who gets a Michigan team that struggled its last two games as a huge favorite with slim victories over Akron and at Connecticut. “Everywhere I’ve been when we’ve turned programs around, there’s been a defining moment. Usually that defining moment is winning a game you’re not supposed to or you upset somebody.
“I would tell you, any of those situations would be significant for our program.”
Michigan has dominated the Little Brown Jug rivalry, winning 21 of the last 22 games in the series. The last Minnesota victory came in 2005.
Minnesota, however, lost its Big Ten opener to Iowa, which held the Gophers to 30 rushing yards (they entered the game averaging 282).
Sophomore Rodrick Williams is the team’s consistent back, but David Cobb, who wasn’t on the opening depth chart, has emerged as a threat.
“Offense comes down to good execution, and we just never got in a rhythm and executed well,” Kill said of the Iowa game. “We know we can be better. We need to have a short memory and move forward.”
Kill, however, is more than aware of quarterback Devin Gardner, too.
Gardner made his first career start last season at Minnesota, replacing an injured Denard Robinson. Michigan won 35-13.
“He does a great job of making plays on his own and keeping his eyes downfield and hitting open receivers,” Kill said of Gardner, who has 801 yards passing, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. “Their offense goes through that young man. You’ve got to keep him in the pocket. You can’t let him run around.”
The Little Brown Jug
Michigan leads the series, which dates to 1892, 72-24-3.
So when the Gophers win, it’s a big deal.
The last time it happened, a 23-20 upset in 2005 at Michigan Stadium, then-Minnesota coach Glen Mason learned quickly what the Jug means.
Mason was last to take a shower that day when suddenly, longtime Michigan equipment manger Jon Falk, keeper of the Jug when it’s in Ann Arbor, appeared.
“ ‘Mason, you finally got the Jug,’ ” Mason said, recalling Falk’s opening comment. “I’m stark naked in the shower talking to Jon Falk and the water’s cold and I’m freezing my (butt) off.”
On the flight home, the Jug was placed in the seat next to Mason. They landed in Minneapolis and were greeted by fans and the team band. Mason and his wife then headed to Manny’s restaurant.
Mason was going to leave the Jug in the car, which he was having parked by valet. His wife said he had to take the Jug in the restaurant. The valet driver said the same thing.
“We walk in, people see me with the Jug and gave me a standing ovation,” Mason said.